Philippians 1:3-11 we will consider verses 6, and 9-11
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Doing THE Good Work
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
There is a cute poster out there, somewhere. It pictures Calvin of the "Calvin and Hobbs" cartoon - at least in one version of it. The picture makes him look frazzled and the caption says, "God put on earth to accomplish certain things, and right now I am so far behind, I will never die!" Ahh, if it were just that simple, eh? We could postpone death by failing to get everything done that we were placed on earth to do.
Of course, the problem with that is that we really don't know specifically what God placed each one of us on earth to accomplish, and God knows everything in advance, so He would have seen our indolence in advance and may well have planned for us to accomplish very little. Still, it would be nice if we had some way of knowing for sure what it is that we are supposed to do - in specific - in order to accomplish whatever it is that God would have us to do. With that thought in mind, let us approach the Epistle for today, and specifically verses 6, and 9-11, and our theme is, Doing THE Good Work.
The truth is that there are things God expects of us. The problem with the idea that God expects works from us is that we cannot do them. In fact. In our text, Paul tells us that the work is God's work. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. The good work begun in us is faith - and you will notice that Paul believes - even under the inspiration of God - that this good work is begun in us, and performed in us by someone else - and we know from other Scriptures that the someone else is God.
God expects the work of faith, because He is the One working it! The other things mentioned? They are the fruits of faith - those things that naturally flow from faith and follow after true faith in the lives of believers. Yes, God expects us to live as believers and show forth His glory and live lives of holiness - in much the same way as you probably expect tomatoes from your tomato plants and squash from your squash vines. These are the fruits of faith and effects that He Himself works in us, so of course, He expects them!
Does that mean that we are free, then, to ignore Christ, church, Word, morality, and whatever, and just live life as it seems pleasing to us? After all, God is doing this stuff, Right? No. If we did so, we would demonstrate that God was not at work in us. We would be living for and from the flesh. No, God's work in us bears fruit and has visible evidence. But it is God's Work, and not our own. We are receivers, not originators.
It is like our worship - Gottesdienst. God comes to us through Word and Sacrament to serve us, wait table on us, to fill us with every blessing and strengthen us and equip us to serve Him and worship Him with holy lives in the world. Does He speak with His own natural voice? Does He appear before us to walk among us? Of course not! He uses our voices and our participation in the liturgy to strengthen us and refresh us. He calls us to what we call a "worship service", and uses our recitation of His Word, our confession of His truth, our preaching and our listening to feed us, comfort us, strengthen us, refresh in us the awareness of His grace and all of His promises, and working through His Word which we have spoken He serves us and blesses us. Even though we do the liturgy, and I preach, and I consecrate the elements of the Sacrament and distribute them to you - it is God at work in and through us.
Paul is confident in God for this. He is confident that God can do it, and that God wants to do it, and that God will do it. Your persistence in the faith is God's doing - just as we confess in the Catechism - "I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him, but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith even as He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Christ Jesus in the one true faith." We confess that we cannot come to Jesus, nor remain in faith without God at work in us. He will continue to do so until Jesus comes again.
Paul then speaks about his prayer that your love abounds in real knowledge and all discernment. This is God working in you. He works real knowledge in you as opposed to the so-called knowledge of the world around us. The world around us "knows", for example, that Islam is a religion of peace, but the truth is that Islam is a fabricated religion for the purpose of war and conquest and domination. Strange idea of "peace" there.
The real knowledge is what the Bible reveals to us, namely the truth, and He who is the Truth. This knowledge makes a difference in us and how we live. The world is frightened by the capriciousness of luck and life, but the Christian knows that God is with him or her, and loves them, so they have nothing to fear. The world is confused about what is right and what is wrong and why - the Christian has God's Word to guide him. The world is unsure of why we are here, and how intelligent life came to be. We Christians know our origin, and we know also our purpose, and we understand the will of God for us. And what is the will of God? [Our Salvation]
The unbelievers have to wrestle with guilt and a gnawing fear about the possibility of a final accounting - a judgment day. We have eternal life and salvation as God's people, and the full and free forgiveness of all of our sins. We know about Jesus, about His death in our place on the cross, and about His resurrection which proclaims and proves the forgiveness He proclaims to us is real and true and valid. Your sins are forgiven. "Whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life."
The thing is, even though God is working all these things in us and through us, - we still are the ones doing the things we do, and living the life we live. We must be deliberately God's people, once He has worked the good work. Paul's prayer, therefore, is that your love - and the word here in the Greek is Agape - the sort of love God loves us with, will abound still more and more. Knowing the truth works in us to produce love: love for God who has done such wonderful things for us, and love for our fellow men, whom God has also loved. And particularly, we are moved to love one another, just as Christ has also commanded us. This love is inspired by His love, and it is guided by this true knowledge - - which also gives us discernment.
Paul speaks of this love abounding in all discernment. By this love and through this true knowledge, God guides your mind and helps you distinguish the true from the false, the holy from the profane, and the right from the wrong. Without the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, people tend to be stupid. "Professing to be wise they became fools," so says Romans 1:22. You have probably witnessed it when people cannot figure out whether stealing little things is still stealing, or cheating on their taxes is still wrong, and they think they have a right to act out their twisted fantasies even though they would agree that someone else doing those very things would be sick or evil, or both. Faith enables you to see the black and white where your natural reason would tell you there are all sorts of subtle shades of gray.
The result is God working through you to love others, and to approve the things that are excellent, and be filled with the fruit of righteousness. God keeps speaking to us through His Holy Word, but no one has to tell a Christian the importance of worship, or of prayer, or of compassion for someone else. These things just make sense to one who can see the shape of reality. We need worship and the Word of God, and we know that our brothers and sisters in Christ need us there as much as we need them there, bearing witness to their faith, encouraging us, and supporting us in this fight against the devil, the world, and our own flesh.
The result of this faith and love and knowledge and discernment is something Paul calls "the fruit of righteousness". That phrase simply means that what God works in you also works through you to produce righteousness - both in your thoughts and in your actions. The spirit-worked approval of what is right and excellent has led Christians to found hospitals and orphanages to care for those less richly blessed, caused us to be not simply anti-abortion, but pro-life and active in helping those who face the difficulties of life which might tempt them to commit that sad act. Christians establish schools because they understand that each of us needs to be able to read our Bibles. There are other salutary uses for education too, of course, but fundamentally, it is so that we can each read His Word and know the Gospel and encourage one another, and fight error.
God works that concern for our fellow-man because God loved the world. He loved the world by sending His Son to live for them and die in their place and redeem them every bit as much as us. We, as His children, share that love - agape love - and that mission of bringing salvation to the world. Our lives are not about us, because Christ's life was. Our lives are about Christ and therefore about those He came to save. That is why Paul says that the fruit of righteousness is through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Our salvation is the glory of God.
God's glory is that He loved us when we were unlovable and took the stance as His enemies. His glory is that He redeemed us at the terrible cost of the torture and death of His Son on the cross. That is why our righteousness is through Jesus Christ, and why the glory of God - even as we work it- is through Jesus Christ. Paul says that we have been filled with the fruits of righteousness. First, of course, all our righteousness before God is Christ's, just as all our sins became His on the cross. But now, even when we do good deeds and live holy lives, though they call for discipline and deliberation from us, they are not our own. They have been poured out in us by Jesus. We love because He first loved us. When we do what is holy, we do what God placed within us to do. When we speak what is holy, we only speak what God has placed within us. This echoes what Paul says in another place "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me, and gave Himself for me."
Naturally, then, every good thing we do is to the glory and praise of God, as Paul says in our text. It all flows out of the good work which God has begun in us, and continues to do in us - - and it flows through us to others. The love of God for us in Jesus Christ is why Christians are good neighbors, and good citizens of their country. When God works in us He also works through us to the benefit of our neighbors and our society. American history shows us what great good things God works through us for our neighbor, when we listen to His Word and live as His people. Our recent history also shows us what happens when those who call themselves Christian abandon the Word of God by-and-large, and begin to live their lives for themselves, rather than living for God and for the neighbor as God works in the hearts of those who are truly His.
But it all begins with God doing THE good work. We know that He is working good work of faith in us, and His ultimate goal is our salvation. He is perfecting it, in the sense of continuing to do that good work, accomplishing His good and gracious will for us.
And how does He work that work? Through the Word preached, and this holy meal in which He gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink and so build us up to everlasting live and washes away all our sins. And it is our prayer along with the Apostle, this morning, that "that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God." And it is also our faith that He who began a good work in us will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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